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September 2014

Leading Thoughts

What's Love Got to Do With It?

By Kevin Eikenberry

I've written more than once about the connection between love and leadership. Here are two examples—recent:; and farther back: Now, I want to extend that connection to coaching and feedback.

Do you have to love your people to give them effective feedback?

Do your people have to love you to receive feedback from you?

But when those two things are true, the task gets immensely easier (and the messages communicated will be more readily received).

Before the human resources professional in all of us objects, to be clear, I don't mean romantic love; I mean a relationship where people care about the other person in a genuine and authentic way—when people know that the other person wants the best for them.

Your Story

Think about it this way. Imagine you needed to hear some feedback that would be hard to hear—it outlined an error or problem you created that you weren't aware of. Now imagine getting that feedback from two different people. Person 1 is someone you know exceptionally well, with whom you have a strong relationship. Person 2 is someone with whom you don't have that kind of relationship. Both are honest and have expertise, and are therefore qualified to share the feedback with you.

Now imagine that each person gives you exactly the same feedback—they use the same approach, the same words and everything about the situation is the same except your relationship with them.

In which case will you likely be more open to the feedback?

Would it be possible that you might even get defensive and reject the feedback when coming from Person 2?

Logically, it shouldn't matter. And as you read these words you may be rationalizing and saying it wouldn't matter to you. If it truly wouldn't matter, you are a unique person, and you must recognize that most people will not react that way.

Relationships matter, and the stronger the relationship, the more likely you will be able to give feedback that will be valued, heard and, ultimately, applied.
So maybe now you have a hint as to what love has to do with it, but now let's talk about what I mean by love, in this context.

LOVE, Redefined

Somewhere long ago, I read an acrostic to describe love, or more specifically, four behaviors that will show and grow love in a relationship. I don't know where I read it, so I can't credit it, and in fact, I am changing the E from the list in my memory. Let me share it and then we'll talk about these four behaviors as they relate to coaching.

Voice approval

Let's look at how each of these behaviors could positively impact our ability to give feedback that is received and used.

Listen. We all know how important listening is. In the context of leader and employee, it is larger perhaps than you realize. Obviously, you want a boss who listens to you. So does your team. Why? Because listening allows us to truly hear the message of others. But, because it is so rare, when it happens it is especially noticeable. When that act comes from an important person in our lives (like our boss), it means even more. Really listening communicates that we care about (love?) the other person enough to be present with them. How well (and how often) are you doing this?

Overlook. Let me be clear here. I am not suggesting we overlook major mistakes or errors in people's work. I'm not suggesting we make excuses. What I am suggesting is that we keep people's performance in the proper context. You have experienced people in your life who found every flaw in others, and pointed them all out. Even if their intention was good, and even if every item they mentioned was accurate, they aren't very successful in building the kind of relationships we are talking about. Overlooking means putting things into relative perspective and keeping that in mind at all times.

Voice approval. We all want to know others approve of us and our performance/behavior. As a leader, we must notice what people are doing well, and give that feedback regularly and enthusiastically.

Engage. Many words start with E that could be used. I chose engage because when we care about people, we engage with them. We ask questions, we observe, we work to know them better. Engagement implies an active approach to being with and caring about the other person. Whether you want to call this love or not, the value of this behavior is obvious as a leader.

Maybe love is a stronger word than you want to use. If so, I encourage you to think about why that is. If you want to help others receive feedback from you, your effort and care in building the relationship and, yes, creating love is important.

Remarkable principle: Relationships matter when giving feedback. Remarkable leaders work to build relationships in part so that they can best help others grow and improve.

Your Now Steps

If you want to make the feedback process more comfortable and far more effective, start with these steps:

  1. Think about what you've just read. Don't get lost in the word love if it is a problem for you. Rather, think about the four behaviors and how you can do more of them.
  2. Pick one of those behaviors to work on this week.
  3. Decide how you will implement your decision from step 2.

Kevin Eikenberry is an expert on team and leadership development, and chief potential officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He has been studying, writing about, training and coaching leaders for more than 25 years. He is a frequent presenter and keynote speaker at professional conferences. He is the author of the best-selling books From Bud to Boss, Remarkable Leadership and Vantagepoints on Learning and Life, and a contributing author to more than 20 other books. He publishes four electronic newsletters and the blog Leadership & Learning.

This article was reprinted with permission from the blog, Leadership & Learning With Kevin Eikenberry, which can be found at


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